Welcome to the beginning of the 2008 CSA growing season.  Buckle up and prepare yourself for a long ride.  We’ll travel through the 2008 Midwestern growing season together eating a very wide variety of produce that can be grown in our area for as long as most of these vegetables can be offered by mother nature in their respectable seasons.  One of the greatest beauties of CSA is this aspect, truly eating within the seasons.  You’ll get to share with us farmers in the bounty, and probably some failures.  As much as we are farmers, we try be like artists in some ways also designing a layout of a continuous supply of food to feed all of your families and ours every week for the entire growing season in our zone.  We may encounter some bumps in the road such as a crop of something here and there not maturing to it’s expected harvest, but hopefully you will hardly feel these bumps as we have such a wide variety of vegetables planted, you may hardly notice the absence of anything at all while you revel in the beauty and sweetness of what you do have.

It does seem, though, that are starting off the season with somewhat of a bump in the road that is more noticeable than what it might normally be because of the time of year.  Spring is naturally the time of year that produce slowly starts to come into season while we wait for the bounty to arrive.  Because of an unusually cool spring, we seem to have less veggies to put in the first box than what we had planned on.  For example, radishes seem the most obvious to have since they usually only take 25 days to mature to a harvestable crop and they were planted on April 21st, they should have been here and gone by now.  But our radishes won’t be ready until next week, which will make them a whopping 52 long days to maturity!  The temperature of the soil has taken so long to warm up, nothing wants to grow in it quite yet.  Air temperatures have risen into the 80’s already, but it hasn’t stayed warm enough long enough to warm the soil up where it should be at this time.  Neighboring farmers and friends who have been around the block many more times than I  have, said they haven’t seen a Spring this cool in over a decade.  Some perennial plants are weeks, if not over a month behind normal schedules.  I guess we can just give thanks that we haven’t had any heavy, damaging frosts that are killing our young, tender greens.  Ahhh, something to look forward to.

We’re keeping a close eye on the lettuce heads, strawberry flowering, and green onion patch, twiddling our thumbs and trying our patience.  Because we do not over-winter our green onions, they’re not ready for harvest yet, but we are seriously considering this overwintering (planting in the fall of the year before you expect a harvest and letting the plants tuff out the winter and get a head start on the growing season by being already planted and growing before the soil can even be worked with a tractor) method for next year.  We’re quite fortunate to live on a ridge top where we have terrific solar gain and our days are warmer than our neighboring valley friends who have been getting numerous frosts every week since spring began.  I’m here to promise you, that as cool and long as thing spring must be, there are plenty of warm-weather crops planted and growing as quickly as their little, shallow roots can manage.

Many of you “seasoned” CSA members already know of how this all works, but I’m somewhat regretful to ask new members who are trying CSA for the first time in their lives to just be patient with us…mother nature can be hard to reason with.  Thanks to some of our neighboring farmers who have established and “fruitful” crops of asparagus and rhubarb have agreed to sell us some of their perennial goodies.  Our new farm, that we purchased only 14 months ago, did not have rhubarb or asparagus plantings already existing, so it will take at least a few years to get some nice, healthy patches of our own plated and ready for harvesting off of.  We have started some asparagus from seed this year to see how that goes and will transplant them out this fall into the first asparagus patch on the Small Family CSA Farm.  We’re very excited about this!  This spring we also planted our first raspberry patch on the farm.

So enjoy the succulent and tender spinach, the unique and once-a-year flavor of asparagus, and the cleansing sourness of rhubarb.  Notice how much better it tastes to be eating these foods in their peak season.  We even thought to harvest some wild stinging nettles on the farm and dry them down for you to make tea from.  Don’t be scared of this wild edible.    Steep the leaves in hot water to make some warm tea, sit down at your computer, and look at all the wonderful nutritional benefits that Momma Jane dug up and has included in the recipe section of this newsletter.

WHAT’S in the BOX???

Tomato Plants– The variety should be written on the side of the cup, but if it’s not labeled, it’s probably a Muskovich, an heirloom slicing tomato.  If is says “Cherry”, you’ve got a cherry tomato plant.  If it says Cosmonaut Volkov, you’ve got another slicing tomato.  If it says Garden Peach, you’ve got a unique fuzzy garden tomato that will look somewhat like a peach and delight your senses.   If it says Brandywine, you’ve got an heirloom slicing tomato.  If you don’t have a garden plot already, get yourself a bucket, fill it with dirt (preferably not any chemically fertilized dirt, try and find an organic mix if you can because you’ll want to eat these tomatoes), and plant the tomato plant it in the bucket deep enough that just the bottom leaves are sticking out.  If the bottom leaves are yellowing, you can pinch them off if you like.  Water them plant as the soil dries out until the plant starts to set fruit.  Lay off a little on the watering when this starts to happen, you can still water, but not quite as much.  Remember, their native environment is down south where it’s hot and dry.  Tomato plants also prefer to be watered by their roots, and not have the water pour over their leaves, tomato blight can spread this way.  Trellis as needed.  If you’re interested in a few more tomato plants of your own, send me an e-mail and I’ll include them in your next box.  I’ll do this for as many folks as I can until I run out of plants.  First come, first serve!

Sunflower Plants-  We thought of how cool it would be if we planted hundreds of sunflower plants and gave a few of them away to all of you, how neat it would be to have sunflower plants scattered all over southwest Wisconsin, northeast Iowa, and few in Illinois and Minnesota.  There are a couple tall sunflower plants in each cup and one short sunflower plant.  The plants will produce beautiful flowers and edible seeds, if the birds don’t get to them first!

Dried Stinging Nettles for Tea– Don’t be afraid to try something new.  With a little honey in your tea, you won’t even notice! 

Spinach– This is beautiful!  Keep in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.    

Asparagus-  Eat it up as soon as possible!  Asparagus is best when eaten as fresh as you can get it!  Keeps best standing upright in a bowl with water in your refrigerator.  

Rhubarb-  A real early spring treat!  Just enough for a pie.  How convenient!